Plenty of people didn’t believe in spiritualism and scoffed at what Violet and her mother did. They didn’t believe a trained medium could contact those beyond the veil, to let the dear departed send comforting messages to the survivors.
Just as well, Violet’s inner voice drawled. You don’t believe it either.
Violet knew she’d never felt the cold touch of the otherworld or the trembling ecstasy her mother found in her trances. She’d never seen a ghost or a spirit, and had never had one talk to her, or knock at her, or do any of those other useful things spirits could do.
But she’d become very, very good at pretending she did.
That Mr. Mackenzie didn’t believe shouldn’t bother her. Jacobi had told her never to argue with an unbeliever, but to ignore him and move on to the next mark.
Violet should close to Mr. Mackenzie and concentrate on the other gentlemen, to make him feel that he was left out somehow, to make him doubt his own disbelief.
So why didn’t Violet turn away with her superior little smile, her amused disdain? Why did she keep wanting to look at him, to explain that she did this for survival, and beg him not to dislike her for it?
Daniel leaned his elbow on the table, stretching the fine cloth of his coat. “The other side, eh? I’d like to see that.”
Mortimer said, “You’re in for a show then. That’s why I said she’s worth more than a motorcar or a horse.”
A motorcar or a horse? Violet’s anger surged. She wished she did have the powers she claimed to, so she could curse Mortimer into living out his life as a rabbit, or at least being a disappointment to any ladies he took to bed. A horse. God help us.
The gentlemen finally ceased speaking, quieting to watch her prepare. Violet’s preparation was part of the show—when she closed her eyes and drew long breaths to calm herself, her br**sts pressed hard into her tight décolletage. Distracted the clients wonderfully.
When she opened her eyes again, however, she found Mr. Mackenzie not distracted in the slightest. Instead of letting his gaze drop to her rising bosom, as the other gentlemen had, Mr. Mackenzie smiled straight into her face.
Never let skeptics make you nervous, Jacobi had said. Give them a show in spite of their disbelief. Make them doubt their own doubts.
Violet glanced around the table, trying to ignore Daniel. “All is calm tonight, the veil so thin. Mr. Ellingham, I believe we were very near reaching your father the last time. Shall we try again?”
Before the eager Mr. Ellingham—who was attempting to find out where his now-deceased father had hidden away about ten thousand pounds—could answer, Mortimer broke in.
“Contact someone for Mackenzie. He’s my guest tonight. His dear old mum, perhaps.” Mortimer’s eyes glinted with dislike.
Violet didn’t miss Daniel’s flash of anger. The flicker was brief and instantly gone, but Violet had seen it. Whatever had happened to Mr. Mackenzie’s mother, his anger about it ran deep; the hurt that accompanied it, massive.
“Perhaps that would not be for the best,” Violet said quickly.
Mr. Mackenzie’s mask dropped into place. “Aye, let me mum rest in peace. Tell you what, why don’t you contact me dad, instead?” He sent her a guileless look.
Too transparent. Violet gave him a sweet smile. “If you wish me to contact your father, Mr. Mackenzie, I suggest a telegram, because that gentleman is very much still living.”
Mr. Mackenzie stared at her for a heartbeat then burst out laughing. His laugh was deep and true, a man who knew how to laugh for the joy of it. “You were right, Mortimer. She truly has the second sight.”
“I don’t need second sight to read the newspapers,” Violet said. “First sight will do. Your father appears in many pages of the sporting news. Now, if he’d like me to tell him which of his racehorses will do best this year, his lordship is welcome to join us.”
Daniel wound down to a chuckle. “I’m starting to like you, Mademoiselle.”
Violet let her eyes go wide. “I am pleased to hear it, Mr. Mackenzie. However, if you have come tonight to mock me and my work, I will have to ask you to depart. Or at least wait in the hall.”
“Why?” His eyes held an impish twinkle. “Does my mockery disturb th’ spirits?”
“Of course not. Those on the other side can be quite forgiving. But I find it a bit distracting.”
Mr. Mackenzie raised his hands in surrender. “Forgive me, lass. I’ll be the model of goodness from now on. Promise.”
Violet knew better than to believe him, but she returned her attention to the others. “Shall we see what spirits are close tonight?”
The other men readily agreed. They liked the show.
“Then, as you know, I must ask for silence.”
Violet closed her eyes again, and thankfully, the gentlemen quieted down, their guffaws finally dying off.
Violet let her breathing become slow and deep. She rocked her head forward then let it go all the way back, turning her face to the ceiling. She kept her eyes closed as her breathing grew more rapid, faster, faster.
Soft noises escaped her mouth. Violet moved her head from side to side, making sure she didn’t overdo it. Too much gyration looked fake. A little bit was far more frightening, a person in the grip of forces she didn’t understand. Violet also knew that a young woman moaning, perspiring, and letting her bosom move with her panting froze gentlemen into place.
A large, warm hand landed on hers, and Mr. Mackenzie said in a quiet voice, “You all right, lass?”